Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2005 | People

Going the Distance: Larry Wieczorek

By Shelbi Thomas
The UI's new Ashton Cross-Country Course is one of many changes that Larry Wieczorek's seen in his years as a student-athlete and coach at Iowa. One thing remains constant, though. "It comes down to athletes working hard," he says, "having passion for what they do."

Coach Larry Wieczorek Photo: Adpro Design

Every day, Larry Wieczorek turns up for work in shorts and gym shoes. His boss doesn’t complain—Wieczorek’s office is the cross-country field, and he’s responsible for the best group of long-distance runners he’s seen in his 18 years as head coach for the UI’s men’s team.

The self-proclaimed “short, scrubby guy” who recently won Coach of the Year kudos from the Daily Iowan radiates pride in a team that’s surpassed all expectations, placing third in last year’s Big Ten championships—its highest finish in 28 years—and 13th in the NCAA championships. To round off a perfect season, Wieczorek, 72BS, finally realized a dream—a new field for his team west of Finkbine Golf Course.

“I was out there the other night by myself doing some workouts,” he says. “It was 95 degrees and a deer runs in front of me. It sent chills up and down my spine to think that one of the largest pieces of land on university property is dedicated to Larry’s cross-country team.”

Some 30 years after his own UI running career (he holds the Iowa track records in the outdoor 5,000 meters and indoor two miles), Wieczorek still stretches his muscled legs daily. “You have to live the life of a runner,” he tells his team.

For a cross-country runner, life can be pretty tough. Apart from the sport’s grueling distances and challenging terrain, runners often end up bruised and bleeding from the elbows and shoe spikes that fly as athletes jostle in a pack. Mental discipline is the key. Then there’s practice—lots of it. Cross-country runners will rack up between 60 and 90 miles a week.

“Comparing long-distance runners to joggers around town is like comparing a touch football game in the park to what they do at Kinnick Stadium,” says Wieczorek, who’s also headed the men’s track and field program for the last nine years.

Despite his achievements, Wieczorek insists that he’s a regular Joe. “More people can relate to me than to Hayden Fry who goes to 14 bowl games [at Iowa] or Dan Gable who wins 15 national championships,” he says. “I’m just the average guy struggling along, getting a little success now and then.”